Calls to child abuse, neglect hotline increase in El Paso County

Jan. 24—El Paso County received nearly 500 more calls to the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline last year over 2021, bucking a flat statewide increase in 2022, according to data the Colorado Department of Human Services released Tuesday.

"Historically, El Paso County consistently has a high number of calls — near or more than the numbers reported for Denver and other large counties in Colorado," said Kristina Iodice, spokeswoman for El Paso County Department of Human Services.

El Paso County also has a larger population of children and families than other areas of the state and continues to grow with families with minor children, she said.

"Residents care about the vulnerable in our region and have always been responsive to reporting concerns of child abuse and neglect," Iodice said.

Calls to the 24-hour hotline, 1-844-CO-4-KIDS, from neighbors, family members or mandatory reporters in El Paso County rose by 3.6% last year for a total of 14,251 calls received, according to the statistics. There were 13,755 calls in 2021.

Calls are boiled down to referrals or reports when they meet state law requirements for human service agencies to become involved, Iodice said.

The number of reports or referrals produced from calls in El Paso County jumped by 602 last year, pushing the total to 16,312, which is near pre-pandemic levels.

In 2019, El Paso County had 16,777 reports, which had decreased to 14,569 in 2020.

Both calls and reports fell during the pandemic largely because children no longer had as much in-person contact with teachers, coaches and other adults in their lives, Iodice said.

"Even families and friends were not interreacting as much as they used to during the pandemic, so children had far fewer eyes on them," she said.

Last year's increases follow the trend of the past two years, "which means we have more and better opportunities to help protect children and strengthen families," Iodice said.

"Over the past few years, when numbers were down, we knew child abuse and neglect didn't stop, it just wasn't being seen and reported," she said.

In all, El Paso County Department of Human Services employees assessed the safety and well-being of 8,192 children and youth in 2022, the state reported.

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"The increase in calls is a signal that life and interactions are returning to normal, so children and families who need help are being seen and connected to resources," Iodice said.

A total of 209,513 hotline calls were fielded statewide last year, an increase of 0.3% compared with 2021.

Officials attribute the slight bump in part to a new, sustained public awareness campaign about the importance of notifying officials about possible maltreatment of children and teens.

Calls from mandatory reporters — professionals such as medical providers, educators and law enforcement, who are required by law to report known instances or suspicion — decreased statewide by 2% last year, to comprise 55% of total calls.

More calls came in statewide from nonmandatory reporters, which include the general public, family and friends, which increased by 2% in 2022 and accounted for 45% of all calls.

"A call to the hotline could help a family connect with services that create a healthy environment in which children can thrive," Minna Castillo Cohen, director of the state's Office of Children, Youth and Family Services, said in announcing the 2022 year-end data.

Statewide, nearly one-third of children were removed from their homes and placed with relatives, foster families or group care centers, and 70% of children and teens involved in last year's 14,737 cases of family abuse or neglect stayed in their homes while their family received services to help them improve their situations.

In other Colorado counties:

— Calls to the hotline in Denver County decreased by 3.3% last year, for a total of 22,852

— Department of Human Services staff assessed the safety and well-being of 6,400 kids and teens last year in Denver County and saw a 2.1% increase in the number of child welfare reports made, totaling 12,694

— Hotline calls in Mesa County decreased by 5.5% last year, with 6,572 calls, over 6,954 in 2021.

— Larimer County hotline calls increased by 3.8% last year for a total of 10,953